So exciting! The roofs are poured and set on the first three homes in our Rebuilding to Remain program! Rebuilding Alliance Board Chair Carin Pacifico and I were just in Al Aqaba Village meeting with Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq, and walking through the first three homes in construction! (see great photos below)
In just a few days, Rebuilding Alliance has the opportunity to significantly increase our funding and expand our global impact through the GlobalGiving Matching Day competition. Please celebrate our successes and make a donation between 9:01pm and Midnight, Pacific Time, on June 13th, by going to Rebuilding to Remain. Please extend this invitation to everyone you know. All donations made before noon will be increased by 50%, because GlobalGiving has awarded us Superstar status! The Palestinian villagers of Al Aqaba, a little town in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank, are standing up as gently and courageously as they can, to build their homes on the land they own. Building a new home should not be a time of fear, but in Area “C” of the West Bank the villagers know that the bulldozers many come at any time. They are building anyway, pooling their savings and “Rebuilding to Remain.” We stand with them, funding construction of the first 3 homes and working to overturn the “demolition orders” which make planning and building, pumping clean water, providing safe transportation and good education a constant challenge.
Our goal: to raise $30,000 in the first 3 hours of the competition. If we win the competition, we can finish the homes before Ramadan. I ask your help to raise the $17,000 to finish construction of all three homes, plus $8000 to coordinate worldwide advocacy to keep that village standing. With the rest, we'll finish the film that will bring their story to the New York City Peace Film Festival.
During GlobalGiving’s Bonus Day competition, they will match all donations up to $1000, for just 24 hours or until their funds run out. To donate, please go to http://tinyurl.com/Rebuild2Remain. Please give generously and please ask your friends to give too. Please call me if you have any questions or suggestions: U.S. cellphone 1-650-440-9667.
I have some exciting news to share. I would like introduce you to Ian Leech, our third teacher in our Teaching in Village Under Demolition Orders program. Ian grew up in Middlefield, a working class community in Connecticut. After receiving a BA in cultural Anthropology from the University of Oregon, Ian participated in two study abroad programs, one Queretaro, Mexico and another Rosario, Argentina.
Ian heard about Rebuilding Alliance’s English teaching program through a friend, who was living in Ramallah, that had met Al Aqaba Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq. When Ian came to Palestine looking for volunteer work, his friend brought him to the village to meet the mayor.
Here is Ian’s description of the children and families of Al Aqaba:
"After spending time living and teach in Al Aqaba, I have come to understand how much the villagers are truly wonderful people. I'm amazed by how welcoming and friendly they are. They really have done their absolute best to make me feel at home, and they have provided me with anything that I could possibly need and more. Since I don't speak Arabic it has been difficult to talk to many of the villagers. However I have made friendships with a few people who I will go for walks with or have tea with. Most of the people in the village know who I am now so it's very difficult to walk through the town without getting called over to every house that sees me walking for tea or coffee.
The children are great as well. They try to engage me as much as possible and love talking and joking around with me in between classes. Often when they have recess we will play basketball or soccer, which they love. There are a few children that stand out for me because they learn quickly and are not very shy, especially in the kindergarten. I can see who will be more likely to learn and use English in the future, and I know it excites them to learn from a native speaker.
My favorite class is the kindergarten. Although the kids can be difficult to control at times, they learn quickly and are very inspiring. They are interested in your culture and so they want to talk. If they find that you will only speak English with them they will try as hard as possible to communicate. This gives them valuable conversation practice that they may otherwise not get. Also being exposed to people from other cultures is very useful for the children, especially in a small village. It allows them to see the world in a different light and helps to open up their mind a bit to different cultures and ideas.
The biggest benefit for me has been in becoming a part of everyday life in Al Aqaba. The people here are incredibly endearing and it makes me happy to know them and to spend time with them. Being around people this wonderful makes you a better person just for knowing them. They can truly teach you how to be a good person, how to live for friends, family and community."
Ian also was present when the Israeli Army recently demolished the Peace Road, connecting Al Aqaba Village with the Jordan Valley. He was an eye-witness to what had occurred during the demolition. He was deeply troubled by the event and offered us his personal perspective of the event as guest teacher in the village:
"I was actually in a class and was called out by one of the men in the town. He told me to go to my house and grab my camera. I had no idea there was a bulldozer coming up the road. So I ran, grabbed the camera, and was led down to to a viewpoint where I could see two jeeps and a bulldozer coming slowly up the road. My first thought was that they were coming for houses. Some of the guys and I started speculating about which house would get demolished and I was trying to plan out in my head what to do about it. Just the sight of the bulldozer brings many horrible thoughts to mind.
I had spent the previous weeks eating lunch and drinking tea with these people. Not to mention days teaching English and playing football with the kids. So when I saw that they had not come for houses it was a small relief. Seeing a road get demolished for no reason is also a very frustrating experience, especially when you are getting ordered around by soldiers with automatic weapons for just watching this happen. The villagers seemed to take it well, although they were clearly upset and distraught. After all they demolished roads, not houses. There were many questions directed at me about the west and what do people in my country think about such demolitions. I had to tell them honestly people don't think about them, and even if they knew they might brush it off. It was a sad and frustrating day. Definitely one that I wont forget anytime soon."
Here at Rebuilding Alliance, we're spending quite a bit of time thinking about how to mobilize all our donors and networks to respond as early as possible before bulldozers come, and also when they come. We'll ask you to call your Senators and Representatives and are looking forward to releasing some exciting new advocacy tools to make this easy for you. The road demolition was particularly frustrating because there was no demolition order posted in advance -- no early warning possible. Thankfully, homes were not demolished; No new demolition orders were posted.
Ian Leech will be teaching English in Al Aqaba through the end of May. He will also be helping install a set of early warning cameras in the village and on the outskirts to help us react quickly, worldwide, if bulldozers are approaching. Let's hope the world recognizes Al Aqaba's right to exist and this village's right to issue building permits soon.
In closing, I’m proud to let everyone know that, along with Kali and Morgan,we have been fortunate to have another wonderful volunteer teacher as part of our "Teaching in a Village Under Demolition Orders" program. All of this is possible because you, our donors, are able to see the value of this program and how it benefits Al Aqaba village. I thank you again for your support.
Last month, on March 14th 2012, the Al Aqaba Village Council issued building permits, a first in the West Bank's "Area C." I am so proud to tell you that this month, on April 14th 2012, Rebuilding Alliance and the Al Aqaba Cooperative Assembly for Housing Displaced signed a historic mortgage loan agreement to finance construction of the first three homes in our Rebuilding to Remain program. This may well be the first mortgage loan offered to Palestinian families in Area C, the 62% of the West Bank where the Israeli Army is not approving Palestinian town plans or issuing building permits. Unlike any bank loan, our affordable mortgage loan suspends repayment if the home is demolished, until occupancy is restored. Our goal, as stated in our loan agreement, is to "help families from Al Aqaba Village build affordable, expandable homes on the land they own, to affirm the right of the Village Council of Al Aqaba to issue building permits in accordance with the Al Aqaba Town Plan, and to keep these homes and this village standing. 97% of this Palestinian West Bank village is under demolition order by the Israeli Army. Together, Rebuilding Alliance and Al Aqaba are asserting the villagers’ rights to build a home on the land they own and live there safely and securely, as good neighbors locally and throughout the region." Will Al Aqaba's building permits and our mortgage loan be enough to keep this village standing? It is a brave start. It is not sufficient. Just this morning, Israeli Army bulldozers destroyed Peace Street (for the 3rd time) and also a newly paved road. Through the good work of the Jerusalem Legal Aid & Human Rights Center, this time, they did not destroy any homes. So what IS required to make these new permits and mortgage loans solid? Policy change — All of Us, engaged at the grassroots, pressing our elected officials to intervene for good. Remember, your support of our Rebuilding to Remain program makes all this possible! From now until Mother's Day, when you donate $100 or more on GlobalGiving.org, we'll send a Thank You Gift of Organic Olive Oil and Za'atar, fair trade from Palestine!